Getting Locally Grown, Fresh Food onto Student Lunch Trays

woman helping two girls identify new foods they triedRecent policy changes are raising the opportunity for many more Connecticut students to taste fresh, locally grown food in their school cafeterias. UConn Extension is well positioned to make the most of these changes. First, in 2021, the CT Grown for CT Kids Grants program was created by the state to help school districts and early childhood centers access grant funding to purchase local food and offer experiential learning about farm-to-school to children.  

UConn Extension’s Jiff Martin, Extension Educator in Food Systems, served as a grant-writing coach in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture during the first two funding cycles of this grant program. Then, in 2022, USDA Food and Nutrition Services created the Local Food For Schools program, providing $1.8 million for local food purchases to Connecticut school districts that participate in federal child nutrition programs between 2022-2023. This influx of one-time funding is a real game changer for UConn Extension’s Put Local On Your Tray Program 

In collaboration efforts from the Connecticut Department of Education, Connecticut Department of Health, and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, the Tray program works with school food directors to help them purchase local food for school cafeterias. Twenty-seven school districts took the ‘Tray Pledge’ to serve local in school cafeterias during school year 2022-2023. With this new funding, districts will be more incentivized than ever to follow through on their pledges.  

Districts can locate food hubs and meet farmers by using UConn Extension’s digital farm map. Technical assistance is available to schools on how to run a taste test in the cafeteria. The Tray program’s ever-popular posters, stickers, student activity books are available to school districts as well. With new funding through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Tray program is now planning meet-up events between farmers and school food buyers starting in 2023. 

Article by Jiff Martin